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Caring for Ducks in Winter

14 January 2008 6,077 views 16 Comments

Now that we are truly in the midst of a cold New York winter, some things have changed for my little ducky children! No more warm days spent basking in the sun…no more frolicking under the spray of a garden hose…and no more nibbling on fresh dandelion greens from the yard. And I’ve had to change some of my duck care routine, too.

One of the biggest changes for me (and Arp, on the unlucky days that I send him our to harvest eggs) is that we often have to lug buckets of water from inside and bring it out to the ducks in the morning. Arp claims to me that he actually doesn’t mind carrying the water out, but I detest it myself. The reason we are now doing this is that the garden hose freezes when the temps go down.

Another affect of the freezing temperatures is that the ducks sometimes have to go without swimming for days at a time. That’s because their swimming pool often freezes, preventing swimming. If it’s been just a slightly cold night and there is a thin layer of ice on the pool, I just break it up and they are good to go. But if the weather forecast shows multiple days of cold weather, I just dump out their pool for a few days. I think they miss swimming during those cold times, because they jump in their pool with pure joy on the next warm day!

Here’s a picture of the ducks’ house when I went out to collect eggs this morning:

The aviary netting is holding up very well, even with a bit of a snow load. I did get pretty good quality aviary netting, though. It is actually made so that snow will mostly fall through it, and it can take quite a bit of weight before it will break.

Before the winter began, I was actually quite worried about how the snow would affect the ducks. How would they react to having a snowy yard? Would their feet freeze? I am happy to report that they don’t seem to mind the snow at all, and there has been no frostbite thus far.

Even though they always have food and water in their pen, they actually choose to eat the snow frequently. I’m not sure why, but they seem to like it.

When the snow covers the ground in their pen area, I make sure to both shovel snow and sprinkle wood-chips on some of the yard. They are pretty smart – although they will walk around on the snow for a time, they always end up staying on the wood-chips and laying down there. I think this has helped prevent frostbite so far.

Since the winter has begun, I have noticed that the ducks are going through more food than before. This was expected, as the ducks are using up more calories in staying warm in the cold. But on all but the coldest days, they seem perfectly happy out there in the cold, which makes me feel good. I have also noticed that their eggs are a bit smaller than they were in the summer and fall, but still pretty large. They are also producing eggs almost every day, but I am also supplementing their light right now. I give them enough extra light to equal 14 hours per day. Just enough to keep them producing, but not enough to stress them out and hurt their health. So far, so good.

I’m going to miss these quackers when we move to Costa Rica, that’s for sure. I actually have quite a soft spot in my heart for them – especially for Macaroni and Moonbeam (the sort-of Runner ducks).

If you could only see their tushy-wagging waddle as they run off…!


  • JenC said:

    Wow, they are so cute. I must say that I am envious of you having quackers! We are too filled up with cat friends from my cat rescue days to even consider more pets, even if they work for their living. Where are the ducks going when you move (note: I am not offering, just wondering)? Looking forward to sampling one of their eggs at the next unschooling support group if I can actually make it next month!

  • Trish (author) said:

    Thank you! I love it when people compliment my babies!

    We’re not totally sure where they will go when we head south, but I have several leads for people that might take them. But keep it in mind – they really are great pets!

  • jane sherman said:

    Hi your ducks are adorable. I just found this web site, my husband has a coworker who purchased too many ducklings and has offered some to us. We are researching care and environment. We currently have a turkey 6 chickens 3 labs 1 shit zu a cat a lovely pond and a Rabbit. We joke with our three kids that our home is the Funny Farm, its lots of fun and the fresh eggs are great. We’ve never done ducks before, any advice would be welcome.

  • Trish (author) said:

    Hi Jane! No advice, really, except to read the Holderread book on ducks. It’s the best resource out there. Except for their need for 24/7 water, ducks are very similar in care to chickens, so I’m sure you’ll do fine. You should be able to house them with the chickens once the ducklings are bigger, but you’ll have to keep them separate from all the other pets at first. I’m sure they will love your pond! That’s one thing I don’t have. My ducks make do with a large swimming tub. Ducks also do much better than chicken in cold, wet weather. You can also feed them the same feed as laying chickens, so it should be easy for you. Just be careful to supplement Niacin if you use the chicken feed for ducklings – more in the Holderread book on this!

    Good luck! Let me know what kind of duck you get, and how it goes!

  • Carol Foote said:

    Hi, I’ve never done this so don’t know if you’ll get this or not.

    I too have ducks now. I just accidentally found your website. I started out with 2 Rouens. A male and a female. My grandson had them since they were babies in his yard. Since we have a big manmade pond and creek I thot they might love it here. (On the same property. They did! That was in June of 08.

    In July, a friend surprised me with 8 Mallard ducks about 2 months old. Didn’t know if they were hens or drakes. One of my beloved labs ended up killing 4 young ducks within a two week period, not to eat them I think just to chase them and romp with them. The water in the pond got dryer and less. This summer I hope to add water. An Indian friend suggested we tie the dead duck with a rope around my dog’s neck. My husband did. I was just sick at heart over the whole thing. Especially since this particular dog is so gentle, etc. She “froze” in place and shivered with this dead hen around her neck! We all “shunned” her, even her lab sister stayed away from her. This went on for 3-4 hours. He removed it and we have not had ANY trouble with this happening again. That was in July 08, Seven Months Ago!!!

    I truly love my ducks. I have only 6. We too started getting their eggs at the end of January. Right now one of the hens has a nest with 9 eggs in it. She hasn’t started sitting on it yet. They know my voice. They started out with dry dog food although I try to also give them other things that we feed our chickens too. I wish they had a place to get out of the cold but they won’t stay very long in a shelter of any type. I wonder sometimes how they even make it. We’ve had a little snow. But mostly rain, and wind
    and hot summers. We are in Redding, CA. Also, my ducks haven’t really flown. I’ve seen them skim above the water but nothing very high. I think they may be too heavy. But they are beautiful. I really enjoyed your article on “tasting your first duck eggs”. I do had my first duck egg a couple of weeks ago. We only have two hens so we just get 2 eggs. I can’t wait til we get more hens. 4 drakes are too many for two hens. Keep writing.

  • Mo said:

    I have two mallards now. I hatched them in an incubator and they had to live in my house until they were three weeks old. I hated not being able to let them out into their pen but my step-brother was repairing it because our yellow lab had broken in and killed our five rouens when they were two weeks old. Your ducks are absolutly beautiful.

  • Rosie said:

    Hey trish, it was really nice reading what you have to say about your winter experiences. i have 3 indian runners at the minute, and here in England the winter is settling in as we speak and we were a little worried about issues such as not being able to swim, smaller eggs, eating much more, but your article has definitely reassured us somewhat. thank you!

  • matt debruyn said:

    i have 4 ducks 2, they’re 2older femals and males, with 2 couple week younger male and female. i think they’re wings may be cliped, and i don’t have any great places to keep them, or i don’t know if they could make it through the winter

  • Trish (author) said:

    What kind of ducks are they?

    If their wings are clipped, it is even more important to provide them safe shelter from predators at night. Actually, even if their wings aren’t clipped it’s important. You can use a shed if you have one, or just bang together a wooden box with a secure door out of plywood. Ducks don’t require anything fancy or large. For only 4 ducks at night, you need very few square feet. You just have to get off your butt and do it! :-)

    They will make it through the winter as long as they don’t get killed by predators. I once failed to lock up my ducks one night because I came home late, after dark. One was killed horribly by a raccoon. I’ve never completely forgiven myself for that one! It’s usually not the cold that is the problem, unless we are talking about extremely severe weather. Ducks actually prefer the cold. On the coldest days in NY, I always left a heat lamp on in their house, which they were free to use if they wanted. They *never* chose to use it. But again, it’s the predators you have to worry about. Picking up the pieces of a duck that has been killed by a raccoon is not a job that I would wish on anyone.

  • Trish (author) said:

    Glad to help! I bet your runners will do just fine in the winter. My ducks were usually pretty happy in winter, actually. Even though, on the coldest days, I would leave a heat lamp on in their house, they *never* chose to use it. I did, however, chose to extend the daylight hours in winter so that my ducks continued to produce. I only extended the hours a little, though, so as not to stress the ducks much.

  • Lisa said:

    I just happened to stumble across this website. I am so glad I did because it has given me a little peace of mind. We have a coop for our duck(we only have one as the other died a few months ago) but he NEVER goes in it. We used to put him in it at night but he comes right back out. Reading these posts now I know it is just not our duck. All ducks like the cold. This is the first time we have had ducks in this cold weather. We got the ducks for our daughter last spring. In the spring cold weather we kept them in our garage but no way we can do that now that they are full grown ducks. I am going to go buy a heated water dish as i worry that his water freezes and he isn’t getting the water he needs. We do have a swimming pool for him but is it ok for him to be in the water and then step out into the cold snow and lay in it. Can you give me any advise for my duck for the winter? I am so worried that he is cold. He doesn’t seem to act any different though.

  • Nancy said:

    I live in NH and I have 4 Appleyard ducks and 2 mallards who decided to stay with us this winter. Anyone who has not experienced the joy of owning ducks should try. They are the joy of my life and their antics are adorable. It is very cold here and although I too have a heat lamp in their coop they want to be outside in their kennel. Today it will be 10 degrees outside but they just plop down in their hay to keep warm. It is a chore to keep all their area clean in the winter but they are worth every minute of it. At night I come out and say “OK, time for bed” and they all scramble into their coop quacking away. I am waiting for Spring so I can enjoy them even more. On nice days (above 30) I fill up a tupperware tub and they all get excited because they know it is bath time. They are wonderful pets ! Thanks for sharing your stories…

  • Tia said:

    I live in Michigan and have 15 ducks. They love to talk and spend most of there time with our 46 chickens,as they were all raised together. Our ducks are 6 months old and have their own coop (15 by 12 ft). Every night they go in and wait for me to shut the door, we have to do this due to raccoons. I’ve had ducks in the past and they have always done well in winter. I can wait for the snow but it will be funny to see these guys experience their first winter.

  • Angela said:

    I have 6 ducks that we have just recently released from their cage(due to them now being old enough and having feathers). We have a 5 acre lake and they love it. There are a lot of woods and wildlife around so at night time my husband and I wrangle them up so they can sleep safely n their cage. It is quite a chore. I have read other postings about people getting their ducks in at night and it sounds like they are trained to do so. Just wondered if anyone had suggestions on how I could go about doing this. Right now it is a 2 person job to get them put up and unfortunately my husband travels a lot. I love my ducks and want them robe safe. Would appreciate any suggestions!

  • Kathy said:

    Hi, WE have a duck that has adopted us and is living under our porch. it comes out maybe once a day for food and water. There are two other ducks that it , not sure male or female, used to hang out with but they roam. We live on a quiet river so they are always out and about. Anyway, I’m concerned that it might be sick or that it is sitting on eggs that are never going to hatch. Of course it is in the further most and darkest corner of the porch so we can’t see whether or not there are eggs. Any suggestions???

  • Kalyn Mcguire said:

    Your ducks are so cute!Are they Indian runner ducks?I have 5 Runners and would like to keeep them warm.I live In the Adorondacks and am unsure of how to heat my Straw lined shelter.Any advise?